By CHRIS JONES
ZAK HARDAKER is confident that he is making the right move by joining newly promoted, newly named and newly branded Leigh Leopards on a two-year contract from next season.
Hardaker and former Huddersfield Giants centre Ricky Leutele were both revealed as new signings last Thursday, as Leigh owner Derek Beaumont revealed the club’s new name, colours and strategy for a bright future.
Hardaker will move to the Leigh Sports Village after failing to agree a contract extension with Leeds Rhinos and he is confident that with the Leopards will be contenders for honours as early as next season.
“Yes, 100 per cent and I wouldn’t have signed if it had been any other way,” Hardaker told League Express.
“The enthusiasm and ambition of Derek and how he speaks and comes across is infectious.
“I turned up and I didn’t know Ricky was going to be here and he didn’t know I would be here. We both came out in the new strip.
“It all adds up to something we should be really excited about. It’s a new era and they are looking to create a prestige club. They are back in Super League and they want to be contenders, trying to achieve things and maximise our potential.
“The new logo combined with the creation of the Academy and other teams, with the players who are getting on board, shows that this is a club that should be taken seriously next year.
“That is something that Derek seriously wants to express and he’s doing that with the players he has signed, the new format of the club and the new name. It’s a total re-launch.”
And Hardaker is happy to give his approval to the new Leopard name and the new playing strip.
“I think it’s good. Obviously, anything new is surprising and people don’t quite know how to take it. But for me, with this being my first day at Leigh and it all being very new, it just makes it more exciting.
“Rebranding is the way the game is going. York did it recently and I was at Wigan when they created their new badge and it illustrates the direction that clubs are moving in.
“Derek’s ambition is for this club to win major trophies so we’ll see how it pans out. I think he’s brought some great players on board and Adrian Lam will hopefully gel us together so we can go out and perform.”
Hardaker is renowned for not wanting to move from his Yorkshire home, so how will he fare travelling over from Yorkshire?
“I thought that question would come up because I made a bit of a fuss about it when I played for Wigan,” he smiled.
“I didn’t like living in Wigan on my own, but when I’m at Leigh I will still be living in Yorkshire with my family.
“And fortunately for me there will be three others – Ben Reynolds, Tom Briscoe and Joe Wardle – travelling over from Yorkshire, so it will be a lot easier. I’m hoping that one can drive and three can sleep, but if you have a bit of company, it’s a lot easier than doing it on your own. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Leigh have also signed winger Tom Briscoe from Leeds.
He has also signed a two-year contract, as has halfback Gareth O’Brien, who will move from Castleford Tigers.
The Warrington Wolves quintet of Robbie Mulhern, Oliver Holmes, Matt Davis, Jack Hughes and Jacob Gannon have committed to deals until the end of 2024 too.
Young Newcastle Thunder forward Nathan Wilde is also joining the Leopards, signing a one-year deal.
Aaron Smith and Tom Nisbet have been secured on permanent deals for the 2023 season, following loan spells from St Helens.
By CHRIS JONES